You must remember this, as time goes by

August 01, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

A sadistic friend dropped a piece of advertising on my desk and said: "Here's the perfect gift idea for getting someone really depressed."

The ad was for a digital clock that does more than merely tell time or wake you up.

By punching in your age and gender, you can constantly be reminded how much longer you can expect to live, based on standard insurance tables.

It displays your remaining time in hours, minutes and seconds. And it flashes motivational messages that urge you to put your waning hours to good use.

Or as the ad cheerfully put it: "Introducing Timisis . . . the stop-watch for your LIFE! Timisis, your PERSONAL LifeClock, enables you to see time as a gift and motivates you to live your life to the fullest.

"An average lifetime lasts 678,900 hours or 2.4 BILLION seconds. By monitoring every precious minute, Timisis arouses you to the joy of living and helps you to maximize the quality of each day.

". . . The Timisis Lifetime Display shows you the most profound number you will ever see . . . your lifetime. . . . The most precious time you have! . . . Enjoy Timisis. After all, it's the TIME OF YOUR LIFE."

It sounded like the most depressing gadget to come out of the computer age. Or as my friend put it: "If you get one for me, throw in a case of Prozac and a lot of booze."

My question was, would any sane person spend money ($99.95) to be constantly updated on how much time remains before he croaks?

The answer is, yes, they would. I guess that's why I'm not a successful businessman.

This infernal clock has had brisk sales, according to the two Chicagoans who invented and produced it.

They are Barry Faldner, 37, a concert pianist and the conductor of the Sinfonia Orchestra of Chicago, and his pal, Charles "Chip" Altholz, 45, a manager and promoter of musicians and actors.

The idea, they say, came out of Faldner's fascination with the life and death of Ludwig van Beethoven.

"Ever since I was a kid I was obsessed with Beethoven. I remember reading this book about him, and it described his last days, with him on his deathbed, dark clouds outside, and he's shaking his fist at God and the heavens and he's saying: 'I need more time, I need more time.'

"And I thought that if a genius like Beethoven needed more time, everybody must need more time. So the idea came when Chip and I were walking down the street, and I told him the Beethoven story."

Chip: "And I said: 'Wouldn't it be amazing to know how much time you had left?' And we thought of a clock that literally told you how much time you had. The idea is you're here to cram as much living in as you can. You're pretty much put here, wound up, given 75 years or so, and they say, 'OK, go.' It doesn't really bother you at 25, but by 45 you're aware that half of it is gone. You start thinking how to live the rest of it."

Barry: "The number really does start to work on you after a while. You start to get a relationship with this number."

Chip: "It's tough when you see another thousand seconds go by, and you wonder what you have done with the time."

Actually, I had a similar idea many years ago, when I realized that every morning, I would wake up, sit on the edge of the bed and stare at my feet for about 20 seconds.

I figured out how many seconds a year I spent mindlessly staring at my feet. And how many days of my life I would do it.

The results of my calculations were so disheartening that I started sleeping with my shoes on and broke the habit.

That's why I wouldn't want their depressing clock in my home or office.

I can hear the blond saying: "Did you sleep well last night?"

"Oh, yes, when I dozed off I had an estimated 100,648 hours left to live. When I awoke, only 100,642 hours remained. And now that I've showered and shaved and had my coffee, my estimated life span is down to 100,641 hours. By the time I drive to downtown, park the car and walk to my office, I will have 100,640 hours. When I finish work and drive home, it will have dropped to 100,630 hours. I'd stop for a beer after work but that would leave me with feelings of guilt because this wasteful use of time would shrink my estimated life span to 100,629 hours, give or take a few minutes."

"Good. Have a nice day."

"Yes, but a day, whether it is nice or bad, is a mere 24 hours, or 1,140 minutes, or 86,400 seconds. Assuming, of course, that your clock isn't fast or slow."

That is no way to live. Having spent most of my working life facing daily deadlines, I would be better off to have a safe fall on my head than watch the hours tick away.

Beethoven was wrong. After his 9th Symphony, what was left? If he had lived long enough, he would have wound up writing sappy music for Coca-Cola commercials.

Incidentally, Chip and Barry dropped off one of their clocks. After they left, I pulled the plug.

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